Mike Krutel and I became friends by screaming in each other’s faces in an attic in Akron, Ohio. We were both believers, we didn’t know in what, but everything seemed important, now, possible. One night we stayed up late eating at Luigi’s, a famous pizza joint in Akron, making elaborate plans for reciting poems at an intersection, like with one person on each corner yelling over the traffic and going line by line around the intersection, being ridiculous, just doing something. One summer we rode a train back and forth across the country. One time we lived together while we got our MFAs. One time Mike wrote these poems called Best Poems and then we talked about them and everything was important, now, possible. Mike Krutel’s poems have been an integral part of my life since poems have been a part of my life. Raucous, tender, intelligent, uncontainable, I can’t wait for more of Mike’s work to be in the world, for his poems to get their hands in your beautiful beautiful hair.
NS: Your chapbook Best Poems is going to be published soon by Narrow House Books, the new corporate arm of Publishing Genius and Big Lucks, operated by the inestimable Mark Cugini. All of the poems in the chapbook are part of a series, “Best Exit,” “Best Car Fire in the Snow,” and “Best Sonnet,” etc. How did the concept of writing “best” versions of things come about? How did the series generate itself? What parts of the world, or kinds of worlds, were you gathering to make these poems?
MK: It’s completely odd to think about Narrow House as a corporate venture, but it’s true. It’s the version of Breaking Bad where Jessie (Mark) takes up Walt (Adam Robinson is out in the desert telling people he is the danger) on franchising the meth business. Side note: I have not yet seen the final season so don’t spoil it for me people. But I love that this whole corporate venture of writing is happening, especially for someone like Mark, who is going to nail it.
The project began about the time I was finishing up my MFA. The poems I had written up to that time, many of which ended up in a thesis manuscript, still didn’t sit right with me and I was trying to find a way out of the place where many of those poems came from, how they formed. Some of the poems in Best Poems were written before a Best concept even surfaced in my head. Then one night I was thinking about the impending death of my grandmother, and I felt like I could only write myself into the situation. I had not ever written a poem like that before and I was nervous to. Not to write something grand, but to just have the energy in the poem be right, even if the poem didn’t succeed in the end.
The basic principle behind the poems was that if I really didn’t feel like they had anything going for themselves, that made them work in bigger ways, if I’m just breaking into a ridiculous field of plants I couldn’t name though I could identify by some other means, then fuck it I’ll write the best poems that I can. Which is to say that poems can be the best of themselves while still exhibiting the things they have trouble with, or have failed to do despite their best efforts. Everything was game. And I think the poems do all this within themselves, but also in relation to each other by the fact that they exist in a collection based on best efforts.
NS: Who were you reading when you were writing Best Poems? How do think about how what you’re reading enters into your writing? You mentioned how a particular experience, the loss of your grandmother, catalyzed a kind of thinking-writing process. In light of that, I’m thinking about how my initial question here is really deceiving, as if other poems are the only models for poems. I’m hoping you answer that question, but I’m also hoping you can talk about how larger patterns (ontologically large) enter your work. You also live with another artist, so I’m wondering how that saturation (is it saturation?) becomes part of your thinking.
MK: I do find the question of readings to be a weird one, specifically when talking about what one is reading at the time of creating work. I always want to say that what one is reading can have nothing and everything to do with the creation of new work. I don’t even know how to make sense of that last statement, but it hangs on me. I eye the question with suspicion, but I’ll still take it out for a drink to get to know it a little better.
Honestly, there were a number of people that I think I was reading at the time, or that were circling my brain, and I find it hard to summon enough names to feel like I’m answering that question. Looking at the manuscript, I would like to think there are some hints that I was reading James Tate, Andre Breton, and Matt Hart, among many many others. In regards to Matt, it wasn’t only his poems, but his own performative reading of his poems that definitely makes some good tackle to go out with. That kind of charge definitely went into most of the poems in the chapbook, whether directly tied to his kind of energy or another. But maybe none of this shows very much to others and only to me, I don’t know. I’m curious to know.
So, yes. I do think the initial question can be deceiving. The poems do feed off of so much colliding material that is is hard to talk about pinpoints unless there is a more obvious modeling happening in a given poem, where the patterning of it in some way derives from a recognizable source (see: who I am/was reading, fragments of my life that were examinable for creative structural insights). My relationships with the poems, as I wrote/write them, are a sort of collision of elements and particles and larger structures–the larger structures not necessarily being any more or less powerful/magical than the smaller elements. I write a line and then react to get the next, or the next line more easily stems from the one before it, but I get halfway into the second line and think, “Oh shit!” and have to make some choice or find something in the break before or in the combination of the break and the two words after it that build into more words or just one that carries on.
I don’t have a completely good handle on who I was reading, or what I was talking about with other people, artists or not. Maybe an imprecise sense, but it all starts to bleed together a bit. And doesn’t that really become the matter? A poem doesn’t succeed based on one line that I can underline and say “Damn this beats it all, right?” Even a one line poem, one that is really really amazing, doesn’t do what it does on its own volition. There is so much space around it, and I am with it, and I am fucking around in the space with it and many other things.
NS: Why does catching the movement of the mind seem important to you?
MK: I don’t know if I believe in the statement contained in the question: “catching the movement of the mind.” If anything the mind might be more of a danger to movement than it is an instrument of it. I don’t mean danger to be a negative, either. Danger is directly related to movement and both are wonderful things to be caught in. Says Walter White: “I am the danger.”
NS: All of the poems in Best Poems are discrete poems that fit on one page, but as a series they make a larger constellation that resists the closure of any single poem. In fact, many of these poems seem to resist closure in themselves, or to present an “end” to the poem as a kind of illusion. I’m trying to describe how these poems continue after they’re “over,” how their ambiguity and syntax generate an unknowing that never fully closes, and how this happens despite the poem looking, in some ways, like a traditional “poem,” i.e., like I said, it fits on a page, is aligned on the left margin, employs normal spacing and enjambment, etc. You’ve written other series and also long poems, one of which is in this issue of NOO Weekly. The need for and experience of series vs. long poems is always something I’m interested in, like how one or the other arises or needs to happen. Are there differences for you? What are the conditions for a long poem or for a series? What does one do that the other can’t? Is that even right?
MK: I think that idea of closure, or seeming closure, is true of the poems that I am most interested in. I really value a poem when its ending is at a point during which the poem is being as open as it possibly can. I don’t mean open as in sentimental honesty or truthfulness, but more in the physical sense. Wander room and wonder room.
When I’m writing, even when I’m creating something that isn’t coming together in any way, let’s call it a poem regardless of what it is being written, I never want it to end. I keep pushing on the poem’s structure until it says “Alright, it’s ok, you’ve done enough for now,” or perhaps the poem gives me the finger. I’m pushing my self, but also the parameters of what one poem will allow me to do to it. I think this is the same for the concept of a series or long poem.
The long poem you just mentioned started on a plane ride to Boston. The title came to me for obvious reasons of air travel. I liked how I could push against the paring of the words to create different situations of language, parts of speech: whatever(pronoun) it is that clouds(verb); whatever(exclamation), you damned clouds(noun); whatever-clouds (adjective-noun). I repeated it over and over during the course of a few days at AWP. It moved around me while I was not entirely conscious of it, while I was having these amazing experiences with people. Then I wrote the whole thing in a day, as you know already. I used the buddy system with this combination I had been thinking about for days and said to it that we were going to wander into a thinkness/thickness/thinkless space.
If anything, I might say that the series and the long poem can accomplish similar goals. I think one can see where a long poem goes thin, doesn’t make a right connection, or something like that. In this way, the long poem’s immediacy, how it is forced to account for it’s wholeness, is really important because that means that a series has to do the same thing though we might be inclined to shrug off that notion because it seems like the series is made of separate parts that don’t have to answer quite as much to each other. Of course, I can also say the reverse: that the ability of a series to circle around a very similar concern and yet at times be a somewhat disparate, this can happen in a long poem as well, or in any poem.
I’m curious about your use of “vs.”
Like, right now, I am reading Ashbery’s “A Wave” for the first time of really reading it, as opposed to mere (very important) absorptions.
No, wait, let’s do this. I’m going to keep reading “A Wave” and you are going to ask your next question and we are all going to inhabit a space because of course.
NS: I’m curious about your use of “of course.” If you could fill a china cabinet with anything, what would you fill it with? Would you rather bake or boil an artichoke? Is it any use talking about poems like this?
MK: Because of course and courses. I’m in this long Ashbery poem, this one and its many assemblings of a course. The long poem and the short(er) poem are the same things just showing their magic and tensions in more and less ways (I don’t think I can say that one or the other can lay claim to more or less definitively and that is wonderful and hard and part of the course).
I have a complicated relationship with china cabinets. I’m sorry that this avoids the fun of the question, but I wouldn’t want to put anything in a china cabinet. They are heavy and restrictive of whatever is put in them. Too much. I prefer an open bar or credenza. Bookshelves are wonderfully open.
I have baked and steamed artichokes but never before have I boiled one. Really, all that matters is the eating of it with at least one other person and how ridiculous we are scraping our teeth on a plant and fumbling every time in trying to remember how to deal with the heart. So yes, it is of use, and I don’t know that I can explain it anymore than that right now.